'Suits 4 Success' campaign kicks off April 29

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By Frank Weir

Legal News

After last year's inaugural "Suits 4 Success" campaign, which organizers say did very well, local criminal defense attorneys are preparing to hold the event again this year.

The Michigan Prisoner ReEntry Initiative (MPRI) in Washtenaw County and the Washtenaw County Bar Association in collaboration with the Washtenaw County Public Defender's Office, other local defense attorneys, HERO, and the NAACP - Ann Arbor, have announced the second annual "Suits 4 Success" clothing drive to provide professional clothing to parolees who are job-ready.

The kick-off event for drop-off clothing donations will be Friday, April 29, from noon until 3 p.m. at the Washtenaw County Public Defender's Office, 110 North Fourth Avenue, fourth floor.

On Wednesday, May 11, there will be a second clothing drop-off collection combined with a happy hour at The Earle, 121 West Washington, in Ann Arbor, from 5:30 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Attendees are asked to bring new clothes or clean, lightly worn, and in-style clothing with them to the informal events.

Larger sized men's and women's clothing are especially needed. Monetary donations will be accepted as well.

MPRI is a non-profit organization and all donations are tax deductible.

According to organizers, MPRI of Washtenaw County assists over 300 parolees every year with their transformation to becoming productive citizens.

After intensive job-readiness training, parolees are expected to maintain consistent job application logs and be out in the community daily networking and looking for employment.

"Suits 4 Success" was created to clothe these compliant and job-ready MPRI participants.

"Last year, a group of Washtenaw County criminal defense attorneys came together to start a clothes closet for these men and women seeking employment," an event spokesperson said.

"They felt uniquely positioned to understand the needs of this underserved and overlooked population. All attorneys find themselves called to public service, but the criminal defense lawyers serve those who the general population often sees as undeserving of assistance and support.

"Washtenaw County's criminal defense bar sees its role as not just advocating for access to justice in the courtroom, but also as advocates for opportunity in society.

"Over the course of a month, this dedicated group was able to collect 100 full suits, numerous other articles of clothing (such as ties, shirts, blazers, and shoes), and over $1000.

This year, the 'Suits 4 Success' planning committee consists of Steven Tramontin, Kim Easter, Kelly Fink, and several attorneys from the public defender's office including: Lloyd Powell, Sheila Blakney, Delphia Simpson, Elaine Spiliopoulos, and S. Joy Gaines.

"Once again, the Washtenaw County Bar Association agreed to sponsor this two-week clothing drive," the spokesperson continued.

"The NAACP - Ann Arbor branch and the ACLU Lawyers Committee have also agreed to co-sponsor the campaign this year.

"Unemployment has been identified as a contributing factor to many new crimes committed by formerly incarcerated persons.

"Although unemployment cannot be separated from the multiple factors that contribute to reoffending, the inability to meet basic needs may facilitate an individual's return to criminal activity.

"As little as a 10 percent decrease in pay has been associated with a 20 percent increase in criminal activity. However, research has clearly and consistently shown that securing and maintaining legitimate employment is one of the most effective factors in reducing recidivism.

"One of the barriers to men and women gaining employment is that they don't have suitable interview clothing. It is also not unusual for MPRI's clients to not know what is acceptable to wear to an interview.

"Before being contacted by the criminal defense bar in 2010, the MPRI did not have a way to meet the need for appropriate interview clothing. Without some way to ensure that their clients have interview clothing, formerly incarcerated men and women would continue to have difficulty obtaining employment.

"However, some dedicated local defense attorneys, the Public Defender's Office, and the Washtenaw County Bar Association have brought together the entire legal community so that these men and women will have access to clean, new, and gently used professional wear thereby eliminating one of the barriers to employment and making it possible for them become contributing members of society."

Entry to the events is free and open to the public.

Published: Thu, Apr 21, 2011

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